Phillies

Countdown to Clearwater: Now that Mackanin has those 2 bats, how will he line them up?

Countdown to Clearwater: Now that Mackanin has those 2 bats, how will he line them up?

The Phillies begin spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Feb. 14. Leading up to the first workout, we will take a daily look at the important issues and storylines of camp.

Pete Mackanin got his wish.

Back in September, he talked openly about his desire to add two veteran bats to the Phillies’ feeble lineup.

When asked at the time about Mackanin’s wish list, general manager Matt Klentak acknowledged that the skipper was right — the Phillies needed to upgrade their offense.

But Klentak went on to caution that he, as steward of the present and future, would remain committed to a long-term, youth-based rebuild of the club. The implication was pretty clear: Yeah, the Phillies would get a hitter in the offseason, but two? Not at the expense of blocking the path of a young player who would need the chance to show he has staying power and impact potential.

Klentak struck quickly and added a veteran hitter, Howie Kendrick, in a November trade with the Dodgers.

A month later, the winter meetings arrived. Mackanin gave the Kendrick addition a public thumbs-up and once again expressed his desire to add another hitter.

Klentak, meanwhile, remained on the fence, citing his responsibility to balance the future with the present.

Two weeks into the New Year, the Phillies signed left-handed-hitting outfielder Michael Saunders, an all-star with the Toronto Blue Jays last season.

Mackanin got his wish.

But so, too, did Klentak.

Saunders, 30, came on short-term contract — one year with a club option. He won’t be a long-term blockade to a young player and he should help the Phillies have a more productive offense in 2017. Lord knows they need one after finishing last in the majors with 610 runs and a .685 OPS last season, and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301.)

“We had been monitoring both the free-agent and trade market for a hitter and ultimately felt that signing Michael Saunders made sense for us,” Klentak said. “He’s a player who has shown at times to be an impactful middle-of-the-order bat with athleticism and upside who is still relatively young. And he comes on a short-term deal with the flexibility of a club option.”

Saunders hit .253 with 24 homers, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS in Toronto’s thundering lineup last season. He lines up to start in right field for the Phillies. The Phils had considered going with rookie Roman Quinn at the position but ultimately decided on a more proven bat while giving the speedy Quinn some development time at Triple A.

Quinn will still get a bunch of playing time in big-league camp as the team prepares him for a full-time jump that could come later this season.

“Roman is coming into camp with a chance to compete and be on the big-league club,” Klentak said. “What we saw in September was a really exciting player with a lot of promise who has a chance to be an impactful big-leaguer. But we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for him developmentally. He’s never had an at-bat at the Triple A level and we don’t believe some additional time in the minor leagues will stunt his development.”

In addition to Quinn, the Phillies plan to take a good look at shortstop J.P. Crawford in spring training. He will play a lot as starter Freddy Galvis competes for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Crawford, ultimately, will open at Triple A in a prospect-studded lineup.

Saunders, a Canadian, has decided to skip the WBC so he can adjust to life with his new club. That will afford Mackanin time to figure out where to hit him in the lineup. The early guess is that Saunders would bat fifth, behind Maikel Franco.

The Phillies landed upon a leadoff man last season when Cesar Hernandez reached base at a .413 clip in the second half.

So now that we have a place to start, let’s take a peek at what Mackanin might ultimately decide on for his lineup:

2B Cesar Hernandez (S)
LF Howie Kendrick
CF Odubel Herrera (L)
3B Maikel Franco
RF Michael Saunders (L)
1B Tommy Joseph
C Cameron Rupp
SS Freddy Galvis (S)

Of course, this is just a guess. This lineup would give the Phils some on-base strength in the top-third and some pop in the middle — and even at the bottom. Galvis had 20 homers last season, but his on-base percentage was just .274, the worst in baseball. He needs to get on base more, even if it requires sacrificing some home runs.

Franco, 24, also needs to improve his plate discipline.

Mackanin believes that the addition of Kendrick and Saunders will take some pressure off Franco. No longer will he think he has to be the man in the Phillies’ lineup and that could help him be The Man and push 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Last year, he had 25 homers and 88 RBIs.

“I think there were times last year when Franco felt like he had to carry the team, and he didn’t have to do that,” Mackanin said. “Hopefully Kendrick and Saunders will help in that respect.

“Franco just needs to continue to progress and mature as a player and understand the need to just relax, know the situation, know the pitchers, know the score, the inning, and hit accordingly, and I think he’ll do that.

“Saunders will definitely help in all of that because he gives us more balance in our lineup. I’m hoping all our young guys learn something by watching the approach that Kendrick and Saunders take into every at-bat. A good bat is a good bat and I’m happy to have them both.”

Next: Day 9 — Will Pete Mackanin's contract be extended? 

MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

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MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

The red-bearded slugger connected on the 29th anniversary of the Dodgers' last game-ending postseason homer: Kirk Gibson's famous pinch-hit drive to beat Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener.

"One of my earliest baseball memories, I was 4 years old at my grandma's house watching that game in `88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," a smiling Turner said. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

Turner drove in every run for Los Angeles, going the other way for a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. A fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey reached over a railing to catch the ball on the fly.

Turner's second homer of the postseason ended another dramatic night for the Dodgers, who remained unbeaten in these playoffs and moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1988.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. He's been at his best in October, batting .377 with 22 RBIs in the postseason.

"We've been doing it all year long," Turner said. "We're never out of a game. As long as we have outs left, we're going to keep fighting."

Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan in a Chase Utley jersey in the center-field bleachers caught the ball in his glove.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games and went on to its first World Series championship since 1908, while the Dodgers have been absent from the Fall Classic since 1988.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the victory with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

After a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner evened it moments later by poking a single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out but also was stranded.

Up next
Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired 

MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

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MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

HOUSTON — Jose Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa's double in the ninth inning, Justin Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Correa also homered, but Houston needed a daring dash from Altuve to get Verlander a win. The 5-foot-6 AL MVP front-runner reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman , then sprinted around from first base on Correa's shot to right-center field, sliding past catcher Gary Sanchez as he misplayed a short-hop. Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason.

Verlander pitched another gem for the Astros, setting a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowing five hits in his second career complete game in the postseason. He threw a season-high 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird in the top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the inning, Judge picked up Correa's hit in right field and threw toward second base. Shortstop Didi Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. But Sanchez bobbled the one-hop as Altuve slid by, and the Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field. Altuve pointed toward Correa and his teammates from behind the plate (see full recap).

Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs in NLCS Game 1
LOS ANGELES -- Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Yasiel Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a short start by Clayton Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NL Championship Series opener.

Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.

With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief pitching, Los Angeles calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by Chicago on the way to its first World Series championship in 108 years.

Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago's Jon Lester (see full recap).